Sensory trial and error

One of the biggest priorities at our house these days is helping Little Bear with his regulation. It has always been an issue but I think because other things have settled down, it has come more to the fore. I have been experimenting with various sensory hacks to see what works and which ones we can use routinely to improve things in our daily lives. Here are some things we have recently tried and how we have got on:

Regulation at the table

Little Bear has always struggled with sitting still. He’s fine on a sofa and can sit for quite a while but finds sitting at the kitchen table for mealtimes particularly tricky. He is better on our wooden bench than on any of the chairs but still tends to kneel up and change position a lot and get down a lot. I have been trying to engage Little Bear in his own regulation more so I recently asked him why he moves about so much. I had no idea if he’d have enough insight to be able to tell me but it seemed worth a try. He said he didn’t like being too low down. We then experimented with putting various items on the bench to make him higher and a bit more comfortable. Several were no good or too unstable but in the end we settled on a beanbag. We can tuck it through the gap in the back of the bench so it stays in place and Little Bear has given it his seal of approval.

I have to say it has been pretty miraculous in its efficacy. Little Bear is certainly able to sit still for much longer with it and doesn’t change his position half as much. Crucially Little Bear prefers it and goes looking for it if I have taken it off the bench for any reason. My feeling is that children will show us when we are getting the sensory input right for them and this hack is ticking all the boxes. I have been considering a wiggle and sit cushion for a while but I don’t think we need one, the beanbag is perfect.

Regulation when out and about

This is the biggest challenge for us and one I would really like to come up with a solution for. We generally notice Little Bear’s difficulties with regulation when we go on a day trip somewhere or go somewhere new. I guess there might be an element of anxiety underlying the behaviour and we certainly feel Interoception has an impact. We are continuing to work on that but it is not a quick fix and I don’t think we are ready to feedback about how it’s all going just yet (but I will when we’ve made more headway). In the meantime, we have been experimenting with things that help in the instant of dysregulation, while we are waiting for longer term solutions to work.

If we are having a dysregulated day out, Little Bear continually seeks movement, which can be unsafe depending where we are. Often we let him run where we can or swing or climb to his heart’s content. I realised on a recent day out though that all the movement doesn’t actually seem to help, if anything, it gets Little Bear more and more dysregulated. Therefore I hypothesised; we needed to add in more calming elements, rather than encouraging the seeking elements.

I remembered that we used to use a rucksack for that purpose so we have re-introduced it. On the first attempt it didn’t go particularly well as the straps were a bit loose and kept coming down Little Bear’s shoulders which annoyed him. The next time we tried a different bag which has a little chest clip to keep it in place. It was a mixed outcome. We could certainly tell the difference in Little Bear’s behaviour – the weighted bag did calm him and stopped the running and swinging almost completely. I would say this was a fabulous outcome apart from one crucial factor: Little Bear doesn’t like wearing it. I don’t want him to think it’s a punishment of some sort and the fact he doesn’t like it makes me think we haven’t quite got it right sensory-wise. I suppose we need to experiment with the weight of the bag; how long he wears it for etc. I know that when I was taught about weighted blankets, the rule of thumb was always to remove them after 20 minutes as otherwise the body modulates to the weight being there and the effects cease. However I have played around a bit with just letting Little Bear wear the bag for a bit then taking it off but I feel as though the effect goes with the bag and as soon as it goes, he’s back to seeking movement again.

I also wonder if there is another way to give him ongoing proprioceptive input that doesn’t involve wearing a bag? I know you can get pressure jackets but I feel as though he would be too hot. Please make suggestions if you have any as we are certainly in the market for trying something else.

Regulation at bedtime

Little Bear has one of those heavy cuddly toys that is filled with sand, I think it’s a large newt and I have been experimenting with that lying on him to help him calm at bedtime. Again I would say it works a little but then he chucks it on the floor!

In the winter if Little Bear can’t get to sleep, we have a heavy knitted blanket that he sometimes likes me to put over the duvet on top of him which works well. It is generally the sensory approaches that Little Bear is collaborative in that work the best. He will tell me when he does or doesn’t want the blanket and I assume that relates to when he does or doesn’t need it.

I have noticed recently that he has a big fluffy blanket on his bed at the moment and he likes to get all cosy inside that, especially if he hasn’t got his top on. I feel as though it would be quite an unpleasant sensation but it obviously works for him. Looking at how children self-soothe can be a key way of discovering sensory hacks that work. Little Bear still has comfort blankets in bed. They are muslin squares and it is the label that he likes – he strokes his lips with it which seems to soothe and calm him. I can’t think of anything worse and he often tests it out on me knowing full-well that it will make me squeal in discomfort. I suppose it’s a good way into talking about how everyone’s sensory needs are different!

I am now wondering whether proprioception is the best avenue for calming for Little Bear or whether the right kind of tactile stimulation would work better for him. How would we go about providing that whilst walking around a zoo or museum I wonder?

This has definitely been a post with more questions than answers (apart from beanbags, they are an answer) so I apologise for that but if anyone has any clever solutions I’d love to hear them.

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Sensory trial and error

Our Gym Bar Invention

You know your child has some sensory needs when you have one of these in your house:

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 It is not exactly an off-the-shelf product; it is several products that we have combined to create a gym for Little Bear. The basic product is a Pull Up Mate pull-up bar. We got that first because Little Bear was spending quite a lot of time hanging from things. There are not many things in your average household that are safe to hang from though and he tended to resort to the side of his cabin bed which we weren’t too keen on. We decided a free-standing pull-up bar would be safer and we chose this one because it seemed the sturdiest available.

The bar is height-adjustable and we started off with it being half the size it is in the pictures. Little Bear loved it and soon came up with several different moves: hanging, swinging, doing roly-polys in the air, hanging vertically upside down, hanging from the bar like a sloth and moving hand over hand along it, from one side of it to the other. I guess all the moves were giving him both proprioceptive and vestibular feedback, which he seeks.

The only thing I had to be careful of was that Little Bear couldn’t identify when he was getting tired or had satisfied his sensory needs and would just keeping swinging and hanging for ages and ages, tipping himself into over-stimulated territory (see Interoception for more on why this might have been happening). To begin with he would get more and more excited and he would need one of us to tell him to stop and do something else. I do think that has improved with time though and although we do still need to step-in, Little Bear is getting better at identifying when he needs to stop. He is also calmer when he is on the gym and is now using it more functionally to regulate himself. We’ve noticed that when he is generally dysregulated, there are fewer times when he prowls about the house looking for trouble. Now, he tends to go to his gym instead which is certainly preferable.

When it was Little Bear’s birthday we didn’t really know what to get him so we ended up getting some additional bits and bobs to make his gym more exciting. In order for that to work we had to make it full height. We have added a rope ladder, which could be tied onto the bottom bar but Little Bear likes it loose; two hoops and a swing.

 It is fair to say it made his day and was a better present for him than a traditional toy. He quickly invented some new moves including climbing up the frame itself in a star fish shape and then jumping to hold onto the top bar. I frequently have to close my eyes because he does things you would never think possible and even Grizzly gets a bit of a fright sometimes. However he is very lithe and strong and these things seem to come naturally. He is very good at having enough points of contact and at landing safely.

Little Bear also likes to climb up and through the ladder; to do roly-polys on the hoops; turn himself upside down from the hoops and create sequences of moves from one piece of apparatus to another. He often challenges the rest of us to copy his moves but none of us are capable!

When other children visit they are very attracted to the gym too but it is definitely quite over-stimulating for Little Bear if there is more than just him on it (its fine if Big Bear plays).

Another crucial addition with the birthday package was the crash mat, for obvious reasons! It’s one of the fold up gym ones – there is a lot of choice on Amazon. Little Bear also likes this as a place to have a little lie down, I found him there watching TV the other day.

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The only other safety factor to consider is the weight of the child using the gym. The pull-up bar itself is suitable for adults up to 110kg but obviously it isn’t really designed for people swinging around on it. Little Bear doesn’t weigh much so it copes with him fine but it does tip a little if Big Bear goes on the swing or ladder. We are going to add some tent weights to the bottom bars for a bit of extra stability but in general I do think the whole thing is more suited to someone on the lighter end of the scale.

Although it looks like a thing of torture and is not what you would expect to find in someone’s conservatory, we are very pleased with it as a purchase. It wouldn’t be for everyone and it does take up quite a bit of space but I wanted to share what can be done. We had been looking at these types of thing (see below) but they are huge and I don’t really know who could accommodate one in their house whereas our smaller DIY attempt works well for Little Bear and would be equally as good outside during the summer.

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The whole process has made us realise how talented Little Bear is in the gymnastic department. He doesn’t currently attend lessons as he would struggle with waiting to take his turn and with listening. I’d be interested to hear if anyone has tried 1:1 gym lessons or anything similar that we should consider.

 

 

Our Gym Bar Invention

Pets, Children & Why We’re Not Getting a Dog

We keep thinking about getting a dog. We have favourite dog breeds and have even thought about dog names. We are not getting one though, unless I actually want to have a nervous breakdown, which I don’t, so we are not getting one. Not in the foreseeable future anyhow.

It is not as though we haven’t got any pets. We have two cats, outside fish, inside fish and up until fairly recently we had three hens (they got old, don’t worry, it isn’t a grizzly fox story).

The cats are good pets for Little Bear. The cats are quite straightforward with clear boundaries; if they are happy they show you with purring, if they’re not they show you with a scratch. They literally never get over-excited, I don’t think cats can be bothered, and if Little Bear is too rough or over-exuberant with them, they either walk away or give him a nip. Obviously I don’t want him to be nipped or scratched but it is a natural consequence of not treating the cat properly and has led to him being very gentle with them. He has learned that if he is nice to the cats, they will reward him with cuddles and sleep on his bed. Whenever that happens I always tell Little Bear how much they love him, otherwise they wouldn’t want to be in his bedroom or on his bed and that makes him feel good.

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Little Bear has started to get involved with feeding them and knows when they’re hungry. He is also good at keeping them company on the way to the vets. He is less pleased when the little cat goes on a killing spree and brings all sorts of half-maimed creatures into the house but he has helped to catch a live mouse on more than one occasion and has also tidied up dead birds (I don’t make him do that, obviously, but he likes to help). The cats have taught both boys a lot about life, nature and responsibility.

The fish are quite entertaining to look at but I have to admit they are the least exciting of all our pets for children. Little Bear enjoyed building the pond though and enjoyed keeping it ice-free over the cold spell we just had. He likes to feed the inside and outside fish and helps to clean out the tank. Pets definitely provide opportunities for helping and feeling successful.

Our hens have been our most fear-inducing pets, though only ever in other people’s children, not in our own. It has always been a bit of a surprise to folk when they have come across them in our back garden as we live in a typical cul-de-sac, with a not-very-big garden and you don’t really expect to find them there. We have fenced off part of the garden at the side and the hens are generally free range in that bit. Children have to go in there to get to the trampoline though which is what causes the consternation.

We already had the hens when Little Bear came home and he was pretty interested in them from the beginning. I have some lovely photos of him holding one of them and also him inside the hen house with them all outside! I was pretty impressed with him that at the age of three he was brave enough to get hold off one (they were friendly but you did risk a whip from a wing if you didn’t hold them firmly enough). The look on his little face of pride and happiness is just lovely.

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Little Bear has learned quite a lot from the hens. When he first arrived I don’t think he’d ever seen an egg before and he certainly didn’t know that hens lay them. The first time he was left alone with the freshly laid eggs, he threw them all on the ground and trampled them. I often talk about the incident in my workshops and I genuinely think it was because he didn’t understand the context. He didn’t understand that the hens had laid the eggs, that we could take them inside and cook them or that we could eat them. I think he just thought “they look interesting” and explored them on a sensory level.

Funnily enough Little Bear is a good little helper in the kitchen these days and whenever we are baking or making pancakes, he is always in charge of the egg part.

Little Bear has always enjoyed a practical task and would often help Grizzly to hose out the hen house or to re-fill the feed or water or just give the hens some treats. Our last hen, Yoko, recently became poorly and it was obvious she was going to die. It was during the Beast From The East so we brought her inside and she sat in a washing up bowl by the back door for several days while we gave her ‘end of life care’ (the poor thing had lost her ability to move about). Both boys were good at sitting with her and stroking her. Big Bear even suggested she might want to watch You-Tube on his I Pad!

I think that having her inside and letting her go naturally was helpful for the boys who could get a bit used to what was happening and were not shocked when she did die (though the three of us did stand there for quite some time staring at her, trying to decide whether she was breathing or not. It’s harder to tell than you’d think!).

Having pets has certainly brought another dimension to our lives and I do think the boys have gained from it. They have developed empathy, caring and the practical ability to look after something.

I could see us with a dog: I could see the boys would get a lot from one too. Only we just can’t get one. It’s a bad idea.

Little Bear LOVES dogs. I don’t think I’ve ever met a child who loves dogs quite as much as him. When he was smaller he would just run at them, whether he knew them or not and would be desperate to get his hands on them. We have had A LOT of chats about not knowing whether dogs are friendly or not and that you must ask their owner first before you can touch them. Little Bear has learned the rule well but it has not stopped him from gate-crashing stranger’s picnics to make a furry friend or trying to wrestle a lead from someone so he can walk their dog. Once, we were in the country park near to home and I happened to turn around just at the instant Little Bear had over exuberantly scooped up a Dachshund and was dangling it face first above the ground, the poor thing no doubt scared out of its wits. Another time we met a Chow Chow on the high street and within three seconds of being acquainted with it, Little Bear popped his hand in its mouth, probably as he was intrigued by its dark tongue. Dark tongue or no, you can’t go round sticking your hand into random dog’s mouths.

My brother has a dog. She is only about a year old, massive and EXTREMELY bouncy. She is a Tigger of a dog. She is very friendly and has no malice in her whatsoever. She never growls and loves the children. However, and it’s a big however, she has some issues with regulation. She basically can’t regulate herself and hence can be poor at listening, unruly and very, very excitable.

Before we go to see the dog, Little Bear and I always have a little chat. I remind him that if he runs and jumps at her, she will jump up at him. I remind him that if he wants her to be calm, he needs to be quiet and calm and move about slowly. Little Bear knows all this and can tell me the rules. I believe he has every intention of sticking to them.

When we arrive, the dog will be beside herself because some new people have appeared and not only that but some of them are tiny people and that’s way more exciting. Her tail will be wagging with such vigour that she’s knocking things over and she will be being held by her grown-ups to stop her from jumping at everyone’s faces. As she is considerably bigger than Little Bear on her hind legs there is a very real possibility that she will knock him flying. Little Bear doesn’t mind one jot and is just as keen to get to her. What usually ensues is a tangle of human and dog, lots of licks and possibly an accidental scratch.

Already, Little Bear has forgotten the rules. Then mayhem breaks out. The more times the dog licks him or stands on him or knocks him over, the more excited Little Bear gets. The more excited and loud and fast Little Bear gets, the more excited the dog gets so the more she leaps about like a lamb and the more Little Bear laughs and falls over, the more the dog tries to bury under him and the more it tickles and the more he laughs. The dog and the boy reach fever pitch within the first 5 minutes of meeting each other.

Now, if that lasted for half an hour and then everybody calmed down I could deal with it. But it doesn’t. You wouldn’t think it humanly possibly but Little Bear at least, remains at fever pitch the entire time he is with the dog. We once managed 24 whole hours at my brother’s house before Grizzly and I couldn’t bear the dysregulation any longer. People say, “but they’d get used to each other, they’d calm down after a bit” but they wouldn’t. Little Bear doesn’t get any calmer and Grizzly and I find it really hard because what everyone is seeing is Little Bear at his worst. He is completely out of control. He has lost his ability to listen and he cannot be controlled either by us or by himself. He is as dysregulated as he can get. It means that when we try to get everyone to sit quietly and watch TV or let the dog have a nap, Little Bear is not physically capable at that moment in time of leaving her alone or of being quiet or of sitting still. It means he seems very disobedient and is constantly told off.

Having written about Interoception recently, I do wonder if that is the root cause. I read that part of being under-responsive to interoceptive feedback is that you don’t know when you’re getting over-excited or when you need a break. Little Bear certainly doesn’t when he is with the dog and last time, he was absolutely exhausted when we got him home, having come down from his adrenaline-fuelled high.

Obviously if we did get a dog Little Bear would love it but you can see why it feels risky. We would do our research and get a calm breed but a puppy is a puppy and all will be excitable to some degree. We wouldn’t be able to rely on Little Bear sticking to any sort of rule about leaving the dog alone for five minutes or not playing with it roughly and I do wonder how on earth we’d be able to train it properly in those circumstances. The very worst outcome for Little Bear would be us getting a dog then having to send it back, something we are, for obvious reasons, keen to avoid.

It feels a little mean, saying our child can’t have the thing he would love most in the world but until his regulation is improved, it’s too risky. I know there is a lot written about the benefits of dogs for adopted children but I wondered whether anyone else experiences the issues we do?

I think we’ll stick to cats and hens for now. Easter is just around the corner, the perfect time to welcome some new chicks…

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Pets, Children & Why We’re Not Getting a Dog

A Magical Adventure?

Back in the early summer, shortly after we lost Supergran, we were in the mood to seize life and make sure we lived it. We also knew that Gary was going to need something to look forward to, to help her find a way through her grief. So, without thinking it through too much, we booked a holiday to Lapland for the end of the year.

Grizzly has always wanted to go and was very excited. I, on the other hand, have been gifted with a brain that immediately leaps to the darkest places. Neither Bear has flown before (or been abroad) so consequently I have not left the country for 9 years. What if I had developed a fear of flying? What if the boys were terrible flyers? What if the plane crashed? What if there were terrorists in the airport? What if one of us got frostbite?

Sadly I’m not joking: this is just a small selection of my actual thoughts.

Thankfully by the time December came I had pretty much got over my irrational preoccupations and was finally getting excited. So excited in fact that we had to bring forward the date for telling the boys before I imploded. We had purposefully left it to the last minute so as not to overexcite them months in advance. I have no idea how we got away with it as we did loads of prep right under their noses!

In the end, we told them with 10 days to go. The news came in the form of a personalised letter/ invitation sent by Santa himself (!). Little Bear was immediately excited whereas Big Bear was immediately nervous about flying (I suspect he has inherited the going to dark places thing, bless him).

I had planned to use our light box as a visual countdown but it turned out that Little Bear didn’t need me to. For the first time he has been able to keep track of the countdown himself – each day knowing how many more sleeps were left, as well as managing to keep track of which door to open on his advent calendar. I was really impressed with how he managed it: his grasp of time and numbers has progressed a lot recently.

There didn’t appear to be any extra anxiety and whenever I tried to reassure or explain about flying, Little Bear just claimed he had flown before (which I know he hadn’t) and that he had been to Lapland before (hadn’t) and therefore knew all about it already. It was kind of difficult to argue with.

At the halfway point of the countdown I saw some PAS colleagues. As I was telling them what we were up to (the week before Christmas, with a potentially dysregulated child) they did look at me like I might be off my rocker. Was I?! Could this be an ill-thought through hellish disaster?

With 4 days to go, Little Bear woke up with a vomiting bug and proceeded to puke every half an hour for most of the day.

With 3 days to go, Little Bear was thankfully feeling a little better but we had a power cut so he couldn’t watch TV and I couldn’t have life-saving cups of tea. It felt like the week was turning into a black satire of the twelve days of Christmas. On the third day of Christmas my true love brought to me cabin fever hell, lots of vomit bowls and travel doubts a-plentyyyy…

Somehow, it all came together, as these things do, and we were getting up at 4:30am to go to the airport. I have to say I am extremely proud of how both Bears coped with the early start, airport mayhem and the travelling itself. We had a slightly dubious start as Little Bear marched confidently onto the plane and seated himself at an emergency exit. It was the stuff of nightmares! I could only imagine what he could get up to if we took our eyes off him for three seconds in that position.

Of course children cannot sit at emergency exits and instead Gary and I had to endure the talk about what to do if they shouted evacuate, evacuate, evacuate, which did at least clear up the issue of whether I had developed a fear of flying or not.

Entirely to his credit, it turns out that Little Bear is a brilliant flyer and not one bit of bother if allowed his IPad. Big Bear felt unwell to start with which was a shame but he got used to it too and had no difficulty on the way back.

Arriving over a snowy forest and landing on a runway hemmed by snow was pretty amazing. We had taken off at sunrise in the UK and landed three hours later at sunset in Finland. As Lapland is so far north (inside the Arctic circle in fact) they only have three hours of daylight at this point in the year. It was very confusing arriving at the hotel in the pitch black, a bit after 3pm, having just had breakfast on the plane. The dark was pretty difficult to get used to the whole time we were there really.

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The hotel was lovely – warm, Christmassy and traditionally Finnish. No frills but cosy and with everything we needed. Previously we have only ever gone on self-catering holidays and being tied to the hotel timings was a bit tricky. Although we don’t stick rigidly to a timetable at home, we do stick to meal and bedtimes wherever we are or whatever we are doing. It is with good reason as those things remain a predictable constant and help Little Bear to stay regulated. In the hotel, the evening meal wasn’t available until 6pm, which is the time Little Bear usually gets ready for bed. With a bit of tactical snacking and turning a blind eye to Little Bear eating chips for every meal, we managed this ok.

The next morning however, I did nearly lose my calm due to a booking cock-up which meant that an excursion we had pre-booked from the UK for that afternoon was no longer available to us and the only time we could now do it was from 6:30 to 10pm at night. The Rep didn’t seem to be able to get his head around why that would be such a big deal to us. I think people think you should ‘just go with it’ but that is actually much harder than it sounds when you have a child with additional needs and you work so hard to keep things manageable for them. After a bit of a wobble (me) we decided to go with it to the best of our ability and changed our afternoon plan to ‘nap’ and hoped for the best. I am nothing if not resilient.

In retrospect (as much as it irks me to admit it), I have to say that I am grateful for the booking cock-up. Without it we would not have had the opportunity to whizz around a completely dark, peaceful, snow-drenched forest in a sled pulled by huskies, lit only by our head-torches, the stars and the green glow of the Northern Lights! It is hard to describe how awesome, calm and breath-taking it was. At minus 23 degrees it was also a little chilly. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience for all of us that I wouldn’t have wanted us to miss.

It was very special for Little Bear as he LOVES animals. He had been particularly excited about seeing the huskies before we went but we had warned him that they may not be friendly and we probably wouldn’t be able to stroke them. Before we got into the sleds for our safari, we went into a Kota (Lappish polygonal wooden hut) to have some hot berry juice and gingerbread and to warm up. The door opened to allow a guide to enter and in trotted a husky. The look on Little Bear’s face when he realised he could pet her was priceless. It turns out the huskies are highly trained, fully domesticated and love human attention. Little Bear and Nia became firm friends and it really made the trip for him (so much so that I need to print some photos for his room as he is missing her).

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We were also able to pet the huskies who took us on our adventure. I discovered that a warm lick is a great way to warm cold hands afterwards!

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It was a truly fantastic experience and the highlight of the trip for all of us.

Little Bear coped admirably with his very late night. He did ask to go to bed a few times and finally crashed out on the way back to the hotel in the coach.

Unfortunately on day 3 we couldn’t let the boys sleep in because we had to be on the coach at 8am for the next excursion. It was the trip to see Santa and I was concerned that we might have been dragged out of bed for a huge dose of crowds and commercialism. Once more, Lapland proved me wrong and massively surpassed my expectations: a feat which is difficult to accomplish as I am notoriously hard to impress.

Lapland doesn’t seem to do commercialism, just take-us-as-you-find-us natural beauty. We met Santa in a log cabin nestled beside a frozen lake, skirted with frost-encrusted trees. It felt authentic and pure. Somehow it didn’t feel overrun with us tourists, probably because it was a large-ish space and there were plenty of other things to do. The boys played snow football on the frozen lake, we sledged down a hill again and again and when our fingers and toes got nippy we went inside to ice gingerbread. No gift shops, no gimmicks, no glitz.

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The Fins also seem to have a fairly lax attitude towards health and safety which meant that Grizzly and I both got to drive a snowmobile (and the husky sleds) after a three second tutorial (the Bears and Gary were in the sleds, on the back of a snowmobile or in a sleigh pulled by a guide). I’m not exactly known for my daring but I bloody loved it and could have scooted round on the snowmobile for ages if they’d have let me.

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By the afternoon, Little Bear was wilting in front of our eyes. His ability to listen and co-operate was diminishing by the minute. The itinerary for the evening was a Festive Finale beginning at 7pm. Grizzly and I could tell that this was not a risk worth taking. The signs were there that we would not be able to ‘just go with it’ this time and in all likelihood it would be an unmitigated disaster. Not seeing the point of setting him up to fail, we decided that I would stay at the hotel with him and put him to bed and Grizzly and Gary would take Big Bear to the party.

The Rep tried to tell me how much we would be missing out on and though he was trying to be nice, I just wanted him to p*** off as he had no clue about Little Bear, his needs or what would go down if we did attend (it wouldn’t be pretty). Sometimes you have to trust your judgement and know when not to be swayed.

Big Bear had a fantastic time running wild with his new friends and evidently screaming, judging by his husky voice today.

Other than the tweaks/ blips I’ve mentioned and a bit of a tricky passage through Kittila airport with an over-hungry and over-tired and overwhelmed Little Bear (the airport is tiny but packed to the rafters with people), the overall trip was a big success. Even when we weren’t going on trips or doing activities, the Bears just loved being in the snow. They have never seen snow that deep or fluffy before and stepping into it right up to their thighs never grew tiring for them.

The trip was over in a flash and no one was quite ready to go home.

There were minor challenges (there were always going to be) but thankfully no major ones. I would say that our few days were no more difficult than they would have been were Little Bear enduring the final days of term in school. If anything, they were a bit easier, and we had a whole lot more fun and an unforgettable experience. I certainly wouldn’t be averse to taking the children out of school again (at this point in the term) and we now know that travelling abroad is a risk worth taking.

Lapland, we have loved you, you were truly spectacular and you may well have given us the travelling bug as well as some unforgettable memories.

Thank you from all the Bears xx

 

A Magical Adventure?

A bad bedtime

Last night’s bedtime for Little Bear was like stepping back a year in time. It took me completely by surprise. In fact, it’s funny how quickly I have forgotten the full extent of the challenge we used to face every single day. Last night was certainly a challenge though and if the truth be told I was quite unsure how to handle it. Even now, having reflected about it on my drive back and to work this morning, I am still none the wiser about what a better way of handling it might have been.

The thing is that we are quite familiar with dysregulation. I wrote about it in my last post as it tends to pay us a visit on Saturdays. Little Bear’s usual dysregulation is reactive: it doesn’t come out unless we make a demand of him like asking him to go to the toilet or eat a meal. Left to his own devices in an imaginary demand-free zone I think his behaviour at these points would probably seem quite calm and nothing out of the ordinary. When a demand is made, he will resist and refuse and might lash out. However, if we left him alone he would not come looking for trouble.

Last night’s uber-dysregulation (I’m clearly making up terms to suit myself here), however, was on a whole other scale. Last night’s dysregulation was combative and purposefully provocative and very difficult to manage.

Things seemed like they were going awry when Grizzly picked Little Bear up from school. He was scowling and grumpy: not his usual default demeanour any more. The teacher didn’t need a word though and although we had a bit of resistance on his arrival home, Little Bear settled quickly. We spotted the signs so fed him and let him rest in front of the tele. Tea and in fact the whole evening went without the need for remark. It was only when I said it was bedtime and insisted after some refusal that Little Bear did need to turn his I Pad off that I knew I was in for it. It’s hard to describe but there is a visible change in him at these points. His body language, facial expression and whole comportment were different. He does not seem like the same child when this happens.

I persevered with bedtime, keeping everything the same as usual. I asked him to go for his “night night wee”. He went into his bedroom. I asked him again. He rolled around on the floor. I began to count as I always do. I got to 3 and he looked me directly in the eye and didn’t move. I said “ok, that’s one story gone”. He usually has 3 books and we regularly use their removal as a consequence if needs be. This upset him and he began to cry but did go to the toilet. I could see the way this was going and tried to reason. I explained that he had made a bad decision so lost one story but if he made some good decisions now, he could still have 2. He called me an idiot. I removed another story. He started chanting “mummy is stupid” so I removed the third. It’s hard because I knew he was dysregulated but it isn’t ok to call me names every time I do something he doesn’t like. Perhaps I should have tried to ignore it instead.

As he was now quite miserable and grumpy, I tried to cajole him. “If you get ready super quick and are really sensible, you can win 2 of your stories back”. I felt this was fair. I was giving him a way out and most children would have seen that 2 stories was good, it was what they wanted and I think they would have tried to buck themselves along to get them. In fairness, I think Little Bear would have on a usual day. In fact most of the time when he loses stories I don’t give them back and he usually accepts that. Not last night though. No. Last night he began getting his knickers in a twist because he thought I should let him win 3 stories back. Perhaps I should have just let him but clearly I can match him in a battle of who is most stubborn (oh dear) and I felt it was the wrong message.

I was able to distract him though and we jumbled our way through getting into pyjamas and doing teeth well enough that I did let him have his stories. He listened well and enjoyed them. We had a nice 10 minutes of quality time together. Little Bear seemed his usual self. That is, until the second I put the books back onto the shelf. At that exact instant, Dysregulated Little Bear was back. It was literally as though someone had flipped a switch.

Me: “okey doke, lie down in your bed then”. Little Bear does not. Me: “come on, Mummy let you win your stories back and we’ve had a lovely time. Let’s be sensible now”. Little Bear: “no”. Me (probably sounding exasperated) “Little Bear, you’ve got some choices now. You can either lay down and be sensible or not. But if you don’t, you know there will be a consequence. It’s your choice but I think you’re really tired and a big sleep would make you feel better”. Little Bear (continuing to hang his legs over the side of the bed): “no”. Me: “ok”. At this point I left the room and sat on the landing so I could still keep an ear out for him.

I was swiftly followed by something (probably a dummy) being pelted at the door then various other items. I could hear a range of crashing and bashing, wall kicking, bed-rocking etc. Little Bear then started shouting and hurling insults. I chose at this stage to ignore him because I knew all this behaviour was designed to attract my attention. However, being stubborn as I am, I have previously sat outside his door and ignored him for a very long time in the hope he would run out of steam but he didn’t. I wasn’t entirely sure that ignoring would work this time either. I pondered my options.

It is difficult in these situations because there are not many options and of all the options not many are favourable ones. I feel that at these times Little Bears WANTS me to lose the plot with him. He wants me to shout and ball. Sometimes I think he wants me to hit him. Sometimes I really feel like it. I think this has something to do with Mirror Neurons though it is odd because to my knowledge Little Bear has not been in a domestic violence situation and has not been physically abused. Nevertheless, he is sparring for a fight and it sometimes feels as though nothing will work until he has managed to escalate the situation and got whatever it is out of his system. Obviously I never do hit him (and don’t think hitting is ever an actual option) so need to have a better strategy.

When he had been shouting for a while, he started saying “why aren’t you speaking to me mummy?”. I said that he wasn’t behaving very well at the moment but I would speak to him if he spoke to me nicely. I asked if he was ready to speak to me nicely. He said he wasn’t and went back to shaking his bed about.

At the point when I felt his bed might actually fall down I decided I had to try something different so I went in to speak with him. I gave him another chance to make a different choice and lie properly in the bed. He did not take it and probably called me something inappropriate so I decided to get him out of the bed and try a ‘time in’. I sat him a couple of feet from me on the landing, making sure there was nothing within his reach that could become a missile. I could see him from the corner of my eye. His behaviour continued to be provocative – moving from the spot I had told him to sit on, trying to turn around, trying to move behind me. It felt like a battle for control.

I distinctly remember sitting in Prep Groups talking about managing behaviour. We were talking about distraction and why that is so much better than a consequence and one lady piped up saying “but then you’ve let them win” and we all inwardly groaned because we knew the whole lesson was about not making it a battlefield or about winning or losing. As a parent you have to be the bigger person. You have to let some things go purposefully unnoticed. You have to pick your battles. You are meant to be therapeutic.

However, how do you distract a child at bedtime? I don’t want to distract him, I want him to go to sleep. I also have to be very careful with Little Bear because the rules need to be the rules. He knows where he’s at then, without any uncertainty. Consistent rules make him feel safe. I can’t have a rule where you aren’t allowed to bounce on your bed except when you’re feeling rubbish and then you can. That doesn’t work. The rule is that you can’t bounce on your bed. If I made an exception one day, the next day, Little Bear would think he could do it again. Last night, he was checking all the rules and I felt I had to make sure they were still there.

I also felt that he was spiralling out of control and on some level he needed me to make sure things stayed under control so that he felt safe. He needed me to keep him under control. In that way it WAS a battle for control.

Needless to say that having all these thoughts and insights is all well and good but you still have a spiralling child who you have now been trying to get to sleep for 2 hours. I did eventually lose my temper and shouted at him and it was a shame because although when he first arrived you could practically explode and he wouldn’t bat an eyelid, he does now look pretty frightened if one of us shouts. It took holding him for a while and some more discussion and wondering to get him to calm down. Even then he still said he wasn’t ready to go to sleep sensibly.

I left the room again and after a minute or so, he said “mum, I happy now” and when I went back in it was as though the switch had been flicked back again. Whatever “It” had been was over. We had kisses and cuddles and he settled down.

I didn’t feel good about my handling of it. I wished I hadn’t shouted at him in an angry way. We have found before that unless he has a good cry and gets everything out of his system he won’t settle and somehow you have to make the escalation stop. I’m open to suggestions if anybody has any wise words.

The saving grace is that he could have been having that meltdown at the school disco which would have been MUCH worse.

I don’t know what was behind it but I’m hoping that the Easter Holidays are going to be just what we all need.

A bad bedtime

Saturdays

When Saturday rolls around I think most people are grateful and ready for a rest. No school run, no work, no expectations. Saturday is meant to be a good day. Saturday should be about a slower start, family time, fun and freedom. However, since Little Bear started school we’ve started noticing that Saturday has stopped delivering. Saturday is now actually quite tricky.

On Saturdays Little Bear is shattered from a week at school. He has worked hard, tried his best and by Saturday seems to be hitting a wall of tiredness. On Saturdays Little Bear is dysregulated.

Grizzly works very hard all week too. He works long hours in a high pressure job and, like many of his colleagues, struggles to adjust from the working week to the weekend. He is shattered and in need of a lie in and a bit less pressure. He needs easing in to the weekend. He needs a break.

Big Bear is normally pretty chipper on a Saturday morning because he plays football for his team. He usually marches into our bedroom not long after 7 with the announcement “number 15 is approaching the pitch!”. He is over excited.

Little Bear has a swimming lesson at 9am on a Saturday morning. I have to admit I don’t love it but at least it gets it out of the way and the rest of the day is free. Usually I take Little Bear swimming and Grizzly takes Big Bear to his football match, occasionally the other way around. Nobody gets a lie in.

After swimming we try to get Little Bear to have a rest and a snack. Sometimes if we have to go somewhere else and he doesn’t have time for that things tend to go AWRY.

How Big Bear is depends on the football match. If they have lost or he has not scored or somebody has fouled him or all of the above then he might be in a football GRUMP.

We usually re-convene after lunch and attempt to do something or other. This may or may not go well. Often it involves Little Bear ignoring all instructions/ doing the opposite of them and Grizzly increasingly struggling to remain calm. Little Bear seems to know that Grizzly is finding the day hard too and seems to be especially disobedient for him. This pattern generally continues until bedtime when Little Bear often loses the plot entirely.

Every now and again we don’t have the energy for this type of Saturday and we try to keep things EASY. This weekend Big Bear’s football match was cancelled and Grizzly was especially tired from travelling so we decided to skip the swimming too. When Little Bear woke us at 6:30 am we gave him his I Pad and he lay in bed with us playing on it for a while. It meant we were able to shut our eyes for a bit longer, even if we weren’t actually asleep. Although this is a nice bit of lazy parenting which definitely has benefits for us we do have to be careful with it as if we leave giving Little Bear his breakfast for too long, things will go AWRY.

Little Bear will refuse to go to the toilet/ come to the table/ eat the breakfast. When we insist that these things do have to be done, he will say something rude like “idiot” or “stupid mum” and growl. We will try to ignore him.

Grizzly and Little Bear find everything easier if they can go outside so even though they are at risk of winding each other up, they often go outside together to do some jobs. This Saturday they cleaned Grizzly’s car and moved some gravel about. Big Bear and I popped to buy him some new trousers as he insists upon growing and got some plants to finish off the front garden.

We then needed to have an early lunch as we were meeting some friends at the park afterwards. When Little Bear is tired he is not too good at eating his meals. He tends to sit at the table but fiddle with anything and everything but not his actual food. He will try and lie on the bench or sit on the back of it. It can be incredibly irritating, especially as he is hungry and will eat the food if we feed it to him. It must be some sort of control thing but I’ve never properly understood it and it can be frustrating, especially if we are in a rush. Grizzly finds it particularly difficult.

We eventually all managed to get into the car. Unfortunately we got stuck in roadworks on the way to the park. Little Bear gets quite anxious if we don’t get somewhere quickly and tends to talk non-stop. He will say things like “over take the cars Dad” and will get increasingly annoyed when you don’t do it. We will try to explain to him that it’s a queue because they are working on the bridge and the cars have to wait for the green light. We can’t over take because it would be dangerous. Little Bear seems to have a bit of a fascination with crashing though and will then start talking about how we should crash and will argue that black is white and that crashing would be good and that it wouldn’t matter if it hurt people. I don’t really think he means it but because he has set himself on that trajectory he doesn’t seem to be able to stop.

Ignoring Little Bear at these points is not really a useful strategy because it tends to make him more insistent or louder or he turns to insults. Distraction can work and sometimes a calm explanation can but at other times he gets “beyond himself”. I can’t quite remember how it started but on this journey he disagreed with/ disliked something Big Bear had said. It wouldn’t have been much – you could say that the sky is blue and that might annoy him at these moments. Whatever it was, the two of them started with a “I will” “you won’t” kind of argument. If Little Bear isn’t getting the outcome or response he’s hoping for, he will say something like “you will or I will kill you” or “fine then, I will chop off your head”.

It is quite disturbing how often he references decapitating somebody but we try not to get too excited about it. I don’t think he actually means it, I think it is a way of verbalising his inner discomfort at the time. However, it is unpleasant and he does need to learn a more appropriate way of expressing himself. Usually at these points we will say something like “if you carry on being rude, you can stay in the car with Mum/Dad when we get to the park. It’s your choice” and then try not to engage with him. The explicit consequence seems to help and the fact that he knows we would follow through with it.

It is difficult because whilst it is important to be understanding of Little Bear’s feelings and to empathise with the reasons behind his dysregulation, his behaviour does impact on everyone else in the car and it can feel like a pressure cooker ready to blow. We find we do need to somehow stop the escalation otherwise it’s too difficult to drive the car safely. On a couple of occasions it has been necessary to stop the car but thankfully not many times.

I find it can be a fine balance between being therapeutic and drawing a line under behaviours that are not acceptable/ adversely affect everyone else. As a Mum I have to meet everyone’s needs as best I can and that does mean there are times that Little Bear needs to “get on with it” even if he doesn’t quite feel like it.

Once we were at the park, everything was calmer. Little Bear was tired and wanted a lot of cuddles. He did quite a lot of spinning on his tummy on the roundabout. The sun was shining, Grizzly and Big Bear found some people to play football with and all was well.

When we got home, we made sure Little Bear had a rest.

Tea time brings the same issues as other meals but Gary was here and we were keeping things easy so she fed him and got cuddles and all was fairly well.

At bedtime we quite often have some refusal issues with getting ready but Little Bear loves his stories and the threat of removing 1 of those usually works to keep him focused. He listened to his stories and we had some cuddles. We skipped him reading his book because I knew he couldn’t manage it. It is after I settle him and go out of his room that the monkey business usually starts.

We still sit outside of Little Bear’s door for this reason. If we fully removed supervision I’m not too sure what he would get up to but I know it wouldn’t be sleeping. This Saturday he got out of bed/ threw things/ shouted various things through his door (which wasn’t shut, just to, as he doesn’t like being shut in a room). I think I sat there for about 45 minutes or so. It wasn’t too bad but most nights are much better than this now. Often Little Bear will chat a little but settle down and sleep quite quickly. He mostly doesn’t try to get out of bed or scratch the walls or throw things any more. He usually says “I love you Mum” not “hideous idiot mum”. But not on Saturdays. Saturdays can be tricky.

The good thing about Saturdays is that they are followed by Sundays which are usually a much nicer kind of day. One of us usually gets a lie in. This weekend it was Mother’s Day so we both got up and all had a nice breakfast together. We usually manage some quality family time on a Sunday. This weekend we went to the zoo. Little Bear walked beside me, he followed instructions, he was calm in the car, we chatted about the animals, we went on a boat, we had FUN. Little Bear is like a different child on Sundays. We had the odd small blip – I got a slap because he was getting over-hungry but generally we had a lovely day.

Little Bear wanted to get a cuddly bat. He announced it on the way there. He has some birthday money so we said he could. We went all around the zoo and had lunch and an ice-cream before we went to the shop. Little Bear didn’t moan once and was very happy to be united with his bat when the time finally came. He has creatively named it “Bat” and it apparently slept hanging upside down all the way home in the car.

Little Bear is such a good boy but Saturdays can be tricky.

 

 

Saturdays